World Cup Preview: Uruguay v Portugal

Who? Uruguay - Portugal
Where? Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
When? June 30, 20:00 (CET local time)

Uruguay (Gilad Seroussi)

First goal completed, finishing first in the group stage. Not a goal but always nice doing so with 3 wins and without conceding even one goal. Now, with the level of resistance increasing, Uruguay will need to keep the good aspects going and improve the other in order to win one more battle.

The best performance so far was in the last game, when Tabarez gave up on the idea of controlling the tempo of the match and played to the strengths of the squad. 4-3-1-2 formation, with a combative trio in the middle, Bentancur a step forward closer to Cavani and Suarez, and Laxalt supporting the front line from the left band. It appears that el Maestro liked it, as the same players who faced Russia will face Portugal next, apart from the likely return of injured centre-half Josema Gimenez. If Gimenez will be ruled out, Coates will take his place. Both Laxalt and Torreira, in their World Cup starting lineup debut, played really well. The first, running up and down the line being a non-stop headache for the Russians, resulting in a red card early in the game and Cheryshev's own goal. The second, taking control of the middle of the field, gaining possession, running the plays and lighting the imagination of Arsenal's fans hoping to see the deal sealed. The only down side of the new formation was Bentancur who looked a bit uncomfortable in his new position. If needed, the more natural No. 10 of the squad, De Arrascaeta, will be happy to come from the bench to replace Juve's youngster.   

On Saturday evening, afternoon in Uruguay, thousands of Uruguayos in Russia and 3.5 million back home and around the world will stand behind their 11 guerreros. Most of them will not expect lovely football or flashy tricks, nor will they demand a show of superiority. They will want to see the players in celeste living up to the ethos of the Garra Charrua, often misinterpreted as only playing dirty or aggressive, and fighting off the European champions Portugal with all they got until the last whistle. Hopefully, after the whistle la Celeste will go throw forward its next battle in Russia.

Portugal (Yossi Medina)

It was hard, but in the end, Portugal completed the group stage with the spot for the knockout stage. They were one missed shot away from unbelievable lost to Iran. After the final whisle, nobody really remember that, as Fernando Santos and his players will play at the round of 16.

At the last match, a veteran player showed once again how much experience he brings to the team. Ricardo Quaresma is 34 years old but still shows his talent when it is necessary. He doesn't scored too much in the national team, but he knows the right moment to do so. Two years ago, while playing against Croatia in the Euro round of 16, he scored the winning goal at the 117th minute. Against Iran he scored another important goal that worth a lot for Portugal.

Although Portugal played some World Cup games, it will be just their third meeting against South American team. They played twice in the past against Brazil and didn't lost. Uruguay can be a different challenge for Portugal, as they are bringing their fighting spirit.

After missing the knockout stage in 2014 and being eliminated in the round of 16 in 2010, Portugal wants to get back to the top 8 of the tournament. Uruguay wouldn't be an easy opponent, but Portugal is well known as a team that can make this kind of games to possible.

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World Cup Preview: Iran v Portugal

Who? Iran - Portugal
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 25, 20:00 (CET local time)

Iran (Uri Levy)

Iran is about to play its most important match in its football history, and its for many reasons. A victory over Portugal, and Iran will go for the first time in history to the knockout stage. It is also a private derby for Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach of Team Melli, who was coaching Portugal in 2010 and was fired after a loss to Spain. He is now the longes serving coach Iran national team has ever had.

The movement of letting Iranian women to enter football stadiums in the country is progressing and advancing thanks to the World Cup. The sportive interest & achievements, as well as the high presence of female Iranian fans in the national team games are an imminent proof for the Iranian government that football is stronger than politics.

The match against Spain was broadcast for families and women at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, for the first time in 37 years. The movement for opening Iranian stadiums for women is led online by the Twitter account @openstadiums which is doing a massive work in arousing the awareness to the matter.

Against Spain the Iranian fans has stole the show and made Kazan sound and feel like the Azadi itself. The atmosphere in the Kazan Arena was simply electrifying. The Iranian fans took over the Tatarstan capital, present everywhere from the streets, to the metro, all the way to the stands.

Carlos Queiroz surprised all by leaving Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Iran's star player on the bench, instead starting with Mehdi Taremi and Karim Ansarifad with Sardar Azmoun, for whom it could have easily been a home match as he plays for local Russian club, Kazan. The Iranian defence was highly organised and coped well with the Spanish attempts. Iran did not fell apart from the Spanish goal, but attacked, defended well, and even scored an equaliser, which the linesman called off. “That’s ok, we are going to the last game with our heads up. We have a knockout spot to fight for”, Queiroz told BabaGol after the match.

The last match day in Group B is going to be as intense as it gets, as a serious option to make history is on the line for the Iranians.

Portugal (Yossi Medina)

The narrow win of Portugal against Morocco doesn't make an easy life for them. At the end of the day, Portugal are just one point above Iran and the match against Queiroz and his players may be crucial. Portugal, the European champions, are might facing an early elimination for the second consecutive World Cup.

Portugal face Iran once in the World Cup. In 2006, they won 2:0 from goals of Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was Ronaldo's debut goal in the World Cup and today he is the hottest player in the tournament with four goals. As usual, he is rewriting the history of his team, as he is the first Portuguese to score more than three goals in a single World Cup since Eusébio in 1966.

Another one who is facing the history is the manager, Fernando Santos. Four years ago, as the manager Greece he succeed to qualify for the knockout stage with just four points and a negative goal difference. For Portugal it will be much harder to do same this time, as they probably will be eliminated with a defeat, unless Spain will be defeated by Morocco with a higher score.

The Portuguese are anxious, but they are aware to the fact that they are the favourites. If they will manage to be calm and patient as Spain played against Iran, there is no chance that Portugal will finish this game without the necessary points.

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World Cup Preview: Portugal v Morocco

Who? Portugal - Morocco
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? June 20, 14:00 (CET local time)

Portugal (Yossi Medina)

Portugal can be satisfied from their first match. They managed to end with a draw after long time that they saw a Spanish lead. The major headline is of course the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hattrick and showed to everyone that he came to Russia in order to lead Portugal.

Ronaldo can break one of the most iconic records in football history, as his next goal will be the 85th international goal in Ronaldo's career. If he will do so, he will be the European international top scorer, breaking the historic 56-years-old record of Ferenc Puskás.

If Fernando Santos dreams about the next stage, he will need to lead Portugal to six points in the next two games. Morocco will be the first rivals and sometimes it may considered as an easy rival. Portuguese history could decline easily it, as Portugal remember the 1:3 defeat against Morocco in 1986 World Cup.

Santos also knows that winning is not always the most important, after all he won the Euro two years ago without winning a single group stage match. This time he couldn't afford himself to drop more points if he wants to qualify for the next stage from the first place.

Morocco (Uri Levy)

After the loss to Iran, the disappointed Moroccan side is heading to Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for a last chance to save the tournament.

Morocco, who promised a lot during the qualification without any loss and 0 goals conceded, hoped to be in much a stronger position after the game against Iran, but all of a sudden - the Persians are up with three points while the Moroccans stayed with nothing, despite producing a great game. “We came all the way here to watch our team making history and go far”, Bilal Selimi, a Moroccan fan, told BabaGol while in St. Petersburg before the ride to Moscow.

As for the line-up, Herve Renard plans few changes in the first eleven who started against Iran, and Ayoub El-Kaabi is planned to be benched in favour of Khalid Boutaib - who was not so long ago the favourite of the coach. Nordin Amrabat, who suffered a concussion against Iran has left the hospital, but will be sidelined against the Portuguese. The midfield that worked so well last match is likely to continue.

In defence, Manuel Da Costa has suffered an injury in training and he is in doubt. Morocco brought only four defenders to the tournament, and in this case it would be interesting in which formation Renard will play. Aziz Bouhaddouz is still suffering from that own goal he notched in, which cost his team a point. It will be interesting to see how Renard treat him, and will he play to over come the trauma.

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World Cup Nostalgics: Best 5 Repeats at the Group Stage

The World Cup always brings us the feelings of great memories. Many games during the group stage will remind an old-fashioned World Cup clashes with the same teams. Here are some of these best repeats.

Sweden - Germany
1958 Semifinals 3:1 / 2018 Group F

In 1958, Germany was the reigning World Champions and they were two wins away from winning the title once again. 1:0 lead by Germany didn't made any change for the hosts feeling. Sweden managed to equalize during the first half and scored twice in the last with goals of Gunnar Gren and Kurt Hamrin. Sweden made history and qualified for their only final in the history. Can Sweden upset Germany once again?

Morocco - Portugal
1986 Group Stage 3:1 / 2018 Group B

In hot summer day at Guadalajara, Morocco and Portugal met while they knew that the winner will qualify for the next stage. Portugal were the favourites, but they didn't believe that Morocco will be in one of its best matches ever. Abderrazak Khairi scored a brace in the first half and Abdelkrim Merry added one more. The Atlas Lions won and Portugal found themselves being eliminated too early.
Portugal are once again on the lead, but will it be enough to defeat Morocco?

Brazil - Costa Rica
1990 Group Stage 1:0 / 2018 Group E

Costa Rica World Cup debut was a memorable campaign with wins against Scotland and Sweden and reaching the knockout stage. Nevertherless, one of its well known performances was actually at the defeat 0:1 against Brazil. In this match Costa Rica played with an unusual black and white shirts. The local crowd in the mythical Delle Alpi in Turin thought it a gesture for the local team, Juevetus, and it was enough to make Costa Rica as one of the most beloved team in the tournament.
May Costa Rica have another performance that will be enough to get support?

Argentina - Nigera
1994 Group Stage 2:1 / 2018 Group D

Argentina and Nigeria will meet for the fifth time in World Cup group stage, but none of the previous matches was as amazing as the first meeting in 1994. An early lead with a goal scored by Samson Siasia made the Argentinian a bit shockes. Only Claudio Caniggia could save the day for the Albiceleste and he scored twich before the half time whistle. These goals gave Argentina the win, but later both of the teams qualified for the knockout stage.
In 1994 they qualified together and it happened once again in 2014. What will be in 2018?

Spain - Portugal
2010 Round of 16 1:0 / 2018 Group B

Another Portuguese lost, this time against the eventual World Cup winners in that year, Spain. The only goal scored by David Villa was enough for a win in the Iberian Peninsula derby and to qualify for the quarterfinals. The interesting name in the list is Portugal manager in this match, Carlos Queiroz. In 2018, he will make a double repeat while he will meet Spain and Portugal as the head coach of Iran.
With tons of emotion, what will be the end of the Queiroz-Portugal-Spain trio in the next World Cup?

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